Dante Brown wasn't good enough to be drafted, but that was only a momentary setback, one that motivated the rookie free agent throughout spring workouts with the Steelers. Brown performed well enough to force the release of last year's practice-squad back, Antwon McCray, last week.
Now Brown's looking to pull off the big upset and make the roster at training camp. His friend and teammate at Memphis almost guaranteed it will come to pass.
"He's strong and fast," said center Jimond Pugh, another rookie with the Steelers. "The first time I saw him, I was a junior in college. On his first day, everybody was in awe. It was, ‘Who is this guy?'
"When you see him in pads you'll say the same thing. I promise you, in the preseason you'll start talking about him. He probably fell under the radar. A little injury here, a little injury there made him fall under it a little bit. But anything you hear about him is definitely true."
The problem is that not many have heard or said much about the 6-foot, 211-pounder out of Swainsboro, Ga. And that shouldn't have been the case after Brown's whirlwind start at Memphis. The first carry of his first start went for 62 yards and a touchdown. He finished the year with 902 yards and appeared destined to become a pro prospect as a senior.
"Last year they brought in a freshman and we shared time," said Brown. "The way they did it, I couldn't really get into the rhythm and get a feel for the game."
Brown finished his senior season with only 562 rushing yards and wasn't drafted.
"It was kind of difficult to accept at first, but life goes on," he said. "I just have to work extra hard to get there. It motivates me to work harder than everybody else."
Brown rushed for 1,842 yards as a senior at Swainsboro and signed a letter-of-intent with Clemson, but first had to attend junior college. At Middle Georgia College, Brown rushed for over 1,000 yards in two seasons and heard plenty of talk about a player who'd passed through on his way to Pittsburgh.
"I came the year after Kendrell Bell left," Brown said. "They talked about him all the time, about how great of an athlete he was. It's kind of coincidental that after he graduated high school, we started playing his team. Then after he left junior college, I came in. I kind of kept missing him all the way up."
Tommy West, who'd recruited Brown at Clemson, was fired and lured Brown with him to Memphis. Brown arrived late, but impressed quickly. He gained 43 yards as a backup against Mississippi State and then ripped off a career-high 158 yards in his first start against Tennessee-Chattanooga. He also had 100-yard games that year against Louisville and Houston.
Last year was one Brown would like to forget. He injured his hamstring and then split time with another back. Brown is looking for a similar role in Pittsburgh, but this time alongside the likes of Amos Zereoue, Jerome Bettis and
"They are some good guys," Brown said. "The only thing I want to do right now is learn from them. They've helped. When they're putting in the plays, they go kind of fast so when I get in a tight situation I ask them and they help out, particularly Fu."
By Jim Wexell